Parris, the long view

January 12, 2003

THIS SEEMS the moment for a few kind thoughts about Parris Glendening. They don't come easily.

Even his closest allies have trouble these days recalling the governor's positive contributions over 30 years in public life. The manner in which he has conducted himself - often petty and vindictive, always self-serving - so thoroughly eclipses his achievements that many Marylanders who supported and voted for Mr. Glendening watch him leave office this week with an overwhelming sense of "good riddance."

History is likely to be more charitable. His Democratic legacy of progressive policies, pursued with determination and courage, has substantially improved or at least preserved the quality of life in Maryland.

He's been an outspoken champion of gay rights, gun control, higher education and environmental protection. Under his leadership, Maryland kicked its tobacco habit, began to rein in suburban sprawl, and propelled its state university system into the top national ranks.

Lacking in flash or charisma, Mr. Glendening is an unlikely political leader, more stylistically suited to his first career as a college professor. Yet he proved adept at winning and using power.

He won three terms as Prince George's County executive, the only one able to retain favor so long in a jurisdiction almost as difficult to govern as Baltimore. On the strength of that record, he propelled himself into the State House at a time when Republicans were sweeping the rest of the nation.

As governor, Mr. Glendening moved swiftly against an old enemy, tobacco, which he blamed for his parents' deaths. He persuaded the General Assembly to approve a statewide ban on smoking in the workplace. Then he conducted a crusade to put "tobacco out of business in Maryland" by encouraging farmers to plant other crops and discouraging smoking through cigarette taxes.

His successful six-year fight to ban discrimination against gays was also personal, stemming from the loss of his brother, Bruce, who died from AIDS.

In championing strict gun control measures, Mr. Glendening once again took on conservative lawmakers who were among the top leaders of his party, pressuring some into politically difficult votes.

Hardball budget tactics helped win enactment of his Smart Growth proposals, which encourage development in existing communities in order to preserve open space. The legislation has become a national model and set Maryland on a course where it is now conserving more land than it develops.

Mr. Glendening served in a time of plenty when he could lavish money on such favorites as the University of Maryland, where he once taught. Even after the money ran out, he pledged the state to expensive steps to remove pollutants from the Chesapeake.

Big spending made some people angry. Yet years from now, if Marylanders still have a bay they can swim and fish in, fields to farm, hunt and play on, universities worth bragging about, and a community of tolerance to live in, they may be glad Parris Glendening was once their governor.

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